Someone recently told me about a little girl who likes to recite the nursery rhyme ‘Round and Round the Garden’, performing all the actions with her parents. For the first two lines, she circles her fingers around their palm. Then she walks them playfully up their arm during the next. But when you think she’s going to finish off with the traditional ‘tickly under there’ finale…
…she punches you in the throat.
BLAM. Welcome to the surprising, confusing, sometimes violent world of parenting.
This is not a guide. I cannot tell you how to parent your children. It’s probably more of a companion. A dishevelled companion wandering aimlessly about, smelling of musty old piss. The sort of companion that you keep just so you can feel better about yourself.
There are guides. Some are vague and holistic. And some favour more direct advice, advocating oddly specific routines like waking your baby at 3.49am while eating a lightly-seared crumpet and doing the Highland Fling. Whatever the content, people swear by these books. You will not swear by this book. You might swear at it.
Some books presume to know what is going on inside on your child’s head. I do not know what is inside your child’s head. I don’t know what’s inside my children’s heads, although if I had to guess, possibly a million overtired tigers hopped up on Fruit Shoots.
But there is one thing that I do know. And this is it:
We brought our children into the world and immediately I took them in my arms, held them close and delivered soft, sweet kisses onto their cherubic noses. I treasured them and protected them like they were an actual part of me, a beloved foot maybe.
And in return, they have quickly revealed squalid levels of personal hygiene, a robust indifference to our regular timetables and an insistence on all-night milk raves.
At first, we did everything for them that they couldn’t do for themselves. Which was everything. We set up cheerleading squads to encourage them on at each developmental increment. We gave them a standing ovation when they belched tiny creamy burps.
Spurred on they got up and began to walk, roaming around the house defacing walls with their crayons and their jammy hands. Parenting became an exhausting game of pursuit. We installed an around-the-clock security detail to guard the boys against the dangers that they couldn’t see for themselves. They clambered, they scrambled, they used our kidneys as trampolines.
Soon my older son spied my weakest point: the pathetic need for his love and approval. And obviously, he has withheld this for long periods. Now he has mastered speech he is more forthright: “Get out of this room and get out of my life, Daddy”. I remember that one. My younger one preferred a more physical approach. A baseball bat directed to the crotch. The bat is inflatable, but the intention is clear.
We filled our home with their stuff, lined the corridors with tote-boxes of toys and hills of laundry. The bits of floor that were still visible were pelted with unwanted bits of lunch so it looked like a mosaic of squashed peas and Play-doh shards. They turned our home into a Victorian slum.
Our bank accounts now resemble vast empty caverns. The weekly shop at Sainsbury’s has become as decadent as a splurge at Fortnum and Mason. Funds are now directed to the seemingly weekly requirement for new shoes.
But there is one thing that sustains us through the unending drain on resources, one source of joy to offset the destruction of our social lives, one ray of sunlight to compensate the death of ‘a good night’s sleep’ as a viable concept.
And that is our children.
I told you it was confusing.